Personal Papers is a short story written by May Muzaffar, a woman with very little background information born in Baghdad, Iraq. The short story is written in a prose-like rhythm, beginning in first person and ending abruptly after switching to third person.
The story allows us some insight into the brain of a young unnamed woman who is growing up in Baghdad in 1973. Through numerous journal entries, the reader can plainly see that she is extraordinarily bright, with dreams to be educated and to live freely and without fear as a woman. She writes to an unnamed man about her dreams, her aspirations and many events that take place within her “black and white” life. She loves him dearly, and speaks very highly of him, but yet cannot be with him openly; and because of this she risks her life nightly by sneaking out to see him. He is described in many ways throughout the story, often being referred to her as “freedom.” If one thing is clear, she yearns for and strives to achieve a happiness that would not be able to be reached otherwise due to the “ball and chain” of her brother – a sexist, misogynistic Muslim man from the 70’s. It is mostly because of him she is held back, as if she were a dog on a leash. She is unable to pursue any studies he deems inappropriate, she is unable to see her lover, she is unable to make any choices on her own. She is a slave to this world she is living in, in which women are somehow lesser than men.
This entire story holds a higher meaning than simply allowing us an insight into the brain of this young woman, but powerfully reflects the life an oppressed woman in the 70’s would have to face on a daily basis. The only difference is that many women choose not to fight for what they believe will set them free because they’ve never known anything but oppression and having to bend to the will of their male counterparts. The narrator’s lover is a living, breathing metaphor for a freedom that she has tasted but cannot completely grasp ahold. Her brother is the anchor that is causing her to sink. The story will hold you captive throughout all of it. It will force you to read deeper into the themes of love, chasing freedom, misogyny, as well as oppression and violence that one would have face simply because they were born as a female. Reading between the lines and viewing the story as not a story but a metaphor for these things will really help you understand and appreciate the story for more than it is upon first glance.